Cooking Tips rss

Ideas, advice, and what to make now from the Chowhound community and CHOW editors.

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"Just toss some bacon into a lightly oiled pan/Dutch oven on your stovetop, stir-fry until lightly crispy. Add cabbage and stir-fry that in the bacon grease, finish with some fresh cracked pepper, and voila! Instant dish that tastes fantastic." - stomsf

"[A]n egg poached in spicy tomato soup has got to be one of my favorite fast comfort meals." - lucygoosey

"You should never add alcohol to a pan when it is over the fire and you should never pour from the bottle because of the risk of the fire traveling up into the bottle thereby causing it to explode." - Kelli2006

Roast Your Way to Cauliflower Bliss

Is it hard to imagine putting away a head of cauliflower in one sitting? Many hounds say they could easily do just that if the cauliflower is roasted. "I've been roasting cauliflower for years," says lawmann, "and have made quite a few converts—people who never liked cauliflower until they tasted it done this way." And chowser says, "It's one vegetable my kids fight over."

The basic technique: Toss cauliflower florets with olive oil and salt, spread on a sheet pan, and roast at 425°F until tender and browned, about 25 minutes, turning once about halfway through. "Give a taste when they start looking pretty," advises eight_inch_pestle. QueenB Prefers to slice the head of cauliflower into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick slices because "you get more surface in contact with your pan, which gives more browning and flavor." Hounds recommend drying cauliflower well after washing for best results, and some let it drain and dry overnight in the fridge before roasting.

Cauliflower roasted with nothing but oil and salt is delicious, but "it's great with different spices and condiments—from curry to Dijon mustard to cumin," says chowser. BigSal is a fan of CHOW's Pepper-Roasted Cauliflower, which is seasoned with soy sauce. Others add a squeeze of lemon or some balsamic vinegar before roasting, or sprinkle with grated Parmesan when it comes out of the oven.

smtucker mashes roasted cauliflower into a purée. "Wonderful substitute for mashed potatoes under braised lamb shanks or duck legs," she says. "The braising juices coat the mash and it is delicious."

Discuss: OMG—Roasted Cauliflower

Savory Ricotta

Many recipes using ricotta cheese are for sweets or heavy baked pasta dishes, but ricotta also stars in some simple pasta sauces and other savory treats. Fresh ricotta only makes these better.

Ricotta and vegetables combine to make easy pasta sauces. mcf purées ricotta, roasted red pepper, garlic, and olive oil and tosses with pasta; top with grated Parmesan and chopped parsley. cheesecake17 tosses pasta with ricotta, roasted broccoli, lemon zest, chopped Kalamata olives, salt, and pepper, thinning it with a bit of pasta cooking water.

jen kalb likes a simple Marcella Hazan recipe: Sauté chopped bacon, add baby peas and cook until peas are done; toss with pasta, then mix in ricotta, lots of pepper, and grated Parmesan or Pecorino.

Green Omnivore makes a white pizza with a mixture of ricotta, Parmesan, and mozzarella cheeses spread on the crust; bake the pizza, and when it comes out of the oven, top with arugula dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.

gwendolynmarie suggests combining ricotta, vegetables, and herbs to fill tarts or strudels made with puff pastry or phyllo. maplesugar recommends this herbed ricotta tart.

For crostini or sandwiches, consider CHOW's Herbed Ricotta Spread

Discuss: Fresh ricotta ideas (no sweets, please)

Techniques for Great Braising

There are lots of ways to make great braised meats, and hounds employ variations on basic techniques depending on their preferences and the results they want.

The basic method starts by searing the meat, then adding liquid. They should come part way up the depth of the meat, not submerge it. If it is cooked in a Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid at a steady temperature, the meat will cook evenly, even if not turned. Many do turn the meat, though, so that both sides will be exposed to the braising liquid and so it won't stick. valerie spoons some of the braising liquid over the meat periodically, which is a good option when braising large roasts.

Braised foods taste even better a day or two after cooking, and some hounds make them in advance and chill the dish overnight to reheat and serve the next day. c oliver cooks the day before, removes the meat from the liquid and refrigerates the two separately. "I can then easily lift off the congealed fat which is hard to do if the meat is in the liquid," she says. valerie slices braised brisket, lays it in a clean Dutch oven, covers with the sauce, and refrigerates.

There are many methods of creating a sauce from the braising liquid. Straining out the vegetables and reducing the liquid concentrates its flavors and makes an elegant sauce. If you wish to thicken the liquid, you can purée some or all of the vegetables and mix them into the liquid, or simply purée it all together in the pot, using a hand blender. Or thicken the liquid using a cornstarch or arrowroot slurry or a beurre manie (equal parts flour and butter kneaded together). "The beurre manie just adds that extra touch from the butter," thinks jcattles.

Discuss: A Few Questions Beyond the Braising Basics

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"And don't forget breaking off a big handful of rice noodles and dropping them into hot oil: fllooooosh—they silently and almost instantly inflate, curl, and cook." - Sam Fujisaka

"[S]auté equal parts chopped purslane and onion before scrambling in some eggs—it's a traditional Mexican dish called huevos con verdolagas. Lovely wrapped up in a warm corn tortilla." - plum

"I always make sure to stuff a lot of them inside the cavity of my chicken while roasting along with peppers and onions. I also chop them with the same mixture and put it under the skin of the chicken. It smells wonderful!" - cookieluvntasha, on celery leaves

A Chocolate Cake for Every Taste

There are many ways to make a great chocolate cake. Whether a recipe uses butter or oil, cocoa powder or chocolate, or includes ground nuts will affect its texture and flavor. Chowhounds have a variety of go-to recipes, depending on their taste in chocolate cake.

Do you prefer a dense and very moist cake? Try the Hershey's black magic cake, made with oil and cocoa. It's quick to make, too. "I can have the batter done before the oven is finished preheating," says chowser. This double chocolate layer cake is similar, but uses chocolate as well as cocoa. It's "the best chocolate layer cake I've ever made," says heidipie, "and about the best I've ever eaten." Val notes that it is a huge cake, and suggests baking it in three 9-inch pans instead of two 10-inch pans.

Some hounds go for traditional butter cakes. This one is "by far, the best chocolate cake I have ever had," says tall sarah, who finds the ganache filling recipe makes enough to cover the cake as well. chowser is a fan of Cook's Illustrated's master recipe, which she says is soft and intensely chocolaty, but sweet.

Some prefer flourless or almost-flourless European-style tortes with nuts, like Maida Heatter's queen mothers cake and Julia Child's reine de saba. MichaelB says the reine de saba is "quite spectacular--conversation came to an abrupt halt while we ate it. Almost like a flourless chocolate cake but not so intense and fudgy, more velvety, and with a delicate crunch from the pulverized almonds. Really great."

Discuss: Please share your favorite chocolate cake recipe!

Bake Yourself a Fifty Dollar Pie

Are you dying to try the famous Crack Pie from Momofuku Milk Bar, but blanch at the idea of paying $44, plus overnight shipping, to have one shipped to you? Good news: you can make it yourself. The Los Angeles Times has the recipe, and several hounds have tested it.

Crack Pie has a crumb crust made from homemade oatmeal cookies and a filling that "tastes just like a pecan pie without the nuts," says bluemoon4515. Made with egg yolks, heavy cream, and lots of sugar, it's "REALLY, REALLY, REALLY rich, sweet and buttery," says housewolf. "The cookie seemed weird when I made it," confesses Tom P, "the cookie crumble crust seemed like it would not support the pie, and it looked pretty ugly. But man oh man, did it taste amazing."

There is disagreement about whether the pie is best hot out of the oven or chilled, as the recipe specifies. Tom P thinks that, while it is good both ways, it is best warm; butterscotchtoki feels it's much better cold.

Discuss: Crack Pie Recipe

Waffles Go Savory

Fried chicken and waffles is one popular way to serve waffles in a savory meal, but why not incorporate savory flavors into the waffles themselves instead?

jvanderh loves these white bean waffles, which he tops with Hollandaise sauce. runwestierun recommends Bobby Flay's savory wild rice waffles.

bushwickgirl makes cornmeal waffles with creamed corn and chopped canned green chiles in the batter, and serves them with chili or chicken a la king. silverhawk makes waffles savory by steeping fresh herbs in the milk for an hour before making the batter. "One can add all sorts of flavors to the waffles by infusing the milk," he notes.

scuzzo says Dorie Greenspan's Waffles: From Morning to Midnight "is a great cookbook with lots of savory ideas." gimlis1mum concurs, and recommends the curried couscous waffles with red bell pepper dip from the book.

Discuss: looking for savory waffle recipes

Overheard on the Home Cooking Boards

"[P]lace all ingredients, including the oil, in a hand immersion blender cylinder and blend. Perfect, easy mayo every time. People often don't believe that this method is possible until I show them." - Sam Fujisaka

"Another 'trick' is to boil the egg for 1 minute, break it by cracking on a flat surface, gently pour it back into the water which should be on a gentle simmer. It holds its shape better." - Paulustrious, on poaching eggs

"The other sure-fire way to get anybody to eat them is to toss them in a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and maple syrup and then roast. The sweetness of the maple syrup and the bitterness of the sprouts make for a perfect match." - montrealwaitress, on Brussels sprouts

Juniper Flavors More Than Gin

Juniper berries are a key flavor component of gin, but they are also great in recipes, like CHOW's Poached Fig, Walnut, and Blue Cheese Tart.

Juniper berries are common in sauerbraten; rainey thinks Alton Brown's recipe is excellent, and says it makes enough marinade for two roasts.

cocktailhour grinds juniper berries with rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, and orange zest and uses the combo as a rub for duck. vincentinparisandrome finds that a mixture of wine, stock, and juniper berries makes a nice sauce for duck or pork.

caiatransplant poaches fish in dry white wine with crushed garlic, whole peppercorns, a bay leaf, and a small handful of whole juniper berries. "The fish comes out wonderfully every time," she says. mickeygee likes this salmon with martini sauce, which incorporates both juniper berries and the ingredients of the cocktail.

Juniper berries are also terrific braised with red or green cabbage or sauerkraut, and in choucroute garnie, the classic French dish of pork cooked in sauerkraut, say hounds. They work well with lamb too, and are a classic pairing with venison. Oh, and look for Scandinavian recipes, recommends eight_inch_pestle, who says, "Scandinavian food is lousy with juniper berries."

Discuss: What can I do with this bag of Juniper Berries, besides garnishing G&T's?